In January, 2013 the Pew Center Research released a report concerning aging and its effect on the family. Nearly half (47%) of adults in their 40’s and 50’s have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or supporting a grown child (age 18 or older).
Not only do many of these 40 and 50 year olds provide care and support to their parents and their children, nearly four-in-ten say both their grown children and parents rely on them for emotional support. This generation of 40 and 50 year olds are becoming more commonly known as the Sandwich Generation. They are sandwiched between the obligation to care for an aging parent, who may be ill, unable to perform various tasks or are in need of financial support and their children who also require financial, physical and emotional support.
For this sandwich generation this phenomena is not only limited to parents. Many have loving aunts and uncles that never married and are unfortunate to not have children to care for them as they age. So they rely on their niece or nephew to help them as if they were a parent.
Complicating matters even more for this sandwich generation is that families today are separated by distance. It is estimated that seven to 10 million adults are caring for aging parents from a long distance. This alone presents a challenge – how do you make decisions from afar when you are not seeing this aged love one as often as you would like? Just think about the challenges involved.
Your son or daughter has a job that requires their complete attention, they have a child involved with sports activities with games played on Saturday? What to do? Take time from work, disappoint your child by not attending their big game or disappoint your parent by not attending to their needs in person? When I was growing up these decisions were pretty easy and less stressful because families lived in very close proximity to one another. My dad was one of seven children and all but one child lived more than 15 miles from my grandparents.
Another problem I see firsthand in my profession is that the aging parent is reluctant to share their financial situation with their child or children. In order for the child to effectively help the parent there must be a comfort level in sharing. Being secretive only compounds the situation. If there is not a comfort level in sharing you should encourage this aged relative to seek advice from a professional experienced in providing elder solutions and services.
In terms of estate planning or rather life planning for this parent they should have at the very minimum a Power of Attorney or even better a Living Trust. When we think of estate planning our attention immediately turns to a last will and testament. That is fine for distributing your estate upon death but more importantly how do I protect myself during the latter part of my lifetime? The Power of Attorney at the very least gives someone the right to transact your financial affairs should you become ill or incapacitated. Even better is a Standby Living Trust. The Power of Attorney allows someone to transact business on your behalf as they deem necessary whereas a Standby Trust can provide your direction as to how you want your financial affairs managed when the time arises. I will go into more depth on these issues in upcoming articles for Family Affaires.com.
If you are a member of the Sandwich Generation your role as a caregiver leaves many difficult questions unanswered. How do you give equal time to your family and an elderly loved one? When do you find peace of mind time for yourself? It is most important to try and find a balance in your life so you are poised to handle your role as caregiver. Finding the right balance oftentimes requires asking for help.